A Technical Foul
The NBA has forsaken its pioneer referees
This week, with the conclusion of the NBA regular season, financially strapped franchises can, for the first time, apply for assistance from the league. The money for any bailout would come from a fund that the NBA recently established for that purpose. The program seems to show that the league takes care of its own.
Yet it's not willing to do so in the case of former referees who have been denied coverage under the NBA's pension plan. The league now includes in its pension plans all players in the league since 1965, players with at least five years of experience before '65, coaches, general managers and trainers active since '72 and referees active since '68. But many of those who helped build the league during its first 20 years have been forgotten.
Included in this overlooked group are six officials thought to be the last surviving refs from the 1940s: Sid Borgia (whose shout of "Yes!" after a basket inspired Marv Albert's signature call), Arnie Heft, Phil Fox, Lou Eisenstein, Jim Duffy and Charley Eckman. They range in age from 69 to 77.
April 21, 1991
Last October, Harold Stern, a lawyer representing the six refs, sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern asking the league to consider his clients' case. Gary Bettman, senior vice-president and general counsel for the NBA, wrote back, "Unfortunately at the present time, we see no basis for creating an exception...which would permit these individuals to receive benefits from the NBA."
On March 1, Harold Stern wrote to the NBA's 27 owners, asking them to "create an exception" for the referees. As of last week he had received only one response, from Jerry Colangelo of the Phoenix Suns, who said that while he sympathized with the refs, he supported the NBA's policy.
The former officials consider that policy unfair. "I can't believe the NBA would have no more feeling for us than that," says Eckman, 69, who also coached the Fort Wayne Pistons in the 1950s. "I don't begrudge the modern NBA a thing. I'm happy for its success. But it hurts to have the door slammed in your face."
Says Borgia, 73, who retired from the NBA in '66, "It's not like I'm starving. But my doctor told me I would need two artificial knees as a result of 20 years of running up and down the floor. Refereeing is a forgotten profession, I guess."
A Bad Spill
An auto accident leaves the Shoe paralyzed
At a time when thoroughbred racing is struggling (page 90), the news that Bill Shoemaker had been paralyzed in a California car accident was almost too much for people in the sport to bear. He was not only the best jockey in history, but also the most beloved. The fact that the accident happened less than a month before this year's Kentucky Derby, his favorite race, made it especially disheartening.
The Shoe said, "Winning the Kentucky Derby is better than winning 300 other races." The last of his four Derby victories, aboard Ferdinand in 1986, also was his sweetest, coming as it did when he was 54 and thought to be washed up. The knock against him before that Derby was that he had lost the nerve to send a horse through a gap on the rail.
So, of course, that's exactly what he did with Ferdinand when he saw a glimmer of daylight at the top of the stretch. As he guided his colt to the winner's circle, the crowd chanted, "Shoe, Shoe, Shoe." Even Shoemaker, who always kept as tight a hold on his emotions as he did on his mounts, couldn't help but break into a huge grin before pumping his fist into the air.
Nobody in any sport has ever been as good for as long as the Shoe. His road to glory began in 1949 and didn't end until his tearful farewell on Feb. 3, 1990, at Santa Anita Park. Along the way he had 40,350 mounts, 8,833 victories and 1,009 stakes wins, all world records.
Since he was proudest of his Kentucky Derby wins (aboard Swaps in 1955, Tomy Lee in '59, Lucky Debonair in '65 and Ferdinand), it was ironic that when last week's accident occurred, he was on his way to dinner at The Derby, an Arcadia restaurant so named by former owner and jockey George (the Iceman) Woolf. Police reported that Shoemaker's blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit; ex-jockey and fellow trainer Don Pierce says that the Shoe had "only a couple of beers" after their afternoon golf match.
The tragedy was especially hard on the jockeys who rode against him. They knew Shoemaker best. Eddie Delahoussaye, who spent the night of the accident at the hospital, said he had only an "empty feeling" two days later when he rode Slinkee, one of the 35 horses that Shoemaker had been training, to victory in a Santa Anita allowance race. But it was Laffit Pincay, second to Shoemaker in career wins, who had the most chilling perspective. "Paralysis is my biggest fear," said Pincay. "I'm not afraid to die, but I am afraid to not walk again. When I have a spill, the first thing I do is to move my legs to make sure I have feeling in them."
As of Monday, it was uncertain whether Shoemaker's paralysis will be permanent. However, it's a sure thing that everyone in his sport is cheering for him.
—WILLIAM F. REED
The Flip Side
A New York artist puts the fun back into cards
There are Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour cards, jockey cards, hockey cards, rock 'n' roll cards, rabbi cards, holographic baseball cards, Soviet baseball cards, umpire cards and Desert Storm cards. ("I'll trade you Vesma Grinfelds and Moshe Feinstein for Colin Powell and the Cromags.") Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky recently paid $451,000 for a Honus Wagner card. A judge will decide on April 22 if 13-year-old Bryan Wrzesinski has to give up the $1,200 Nolan Ryan rookie card he bought for $12 from a confused store clerk (SCORECARD, March 18). The Baseball Card Market Report, a Wall Street-style newsletter, debuts next month.
Enough with the cards, you say. We said it too. But then we saw Paul Kuhrman's baseball cards. Kuhrman, a New York City artist, has been whimsically defacing cards for years. Tug McGraw, for example, was transformed into a tugboat. Rowland Office took on the features of a skyscraper. Mark Clear became transparent.
A few of Kuhrman's cards appear on this page. You can imagine what he does with Jimmy Key, Joe Price, Dave Justice and John Moses. Says Kuhrman, 33, "I started doing the cards 10 years ago with my friends. It just took off from there." He now holds an annual Card Defacing Party to celebrate Opening Day. Last week partygoers gleefully ruined 600 potential investments.
A Giant Step?
Bill Parcells is pondering his next career move
On the morning after his New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV, Bill Parcells sat in the lobby of a Tampa hotel and let the feeling of having won his second NFL championship in five seasons sink in. "This is what you coach for," Parcells said. "There's no better feeling in the world."
But three months later, and three months before the start of training camp, Parcells, 49, isn't sure he wants to coach the Giants anymore. "I don't really know what I want to do," he says. Granted, coaches are nomads, spending their adult lives in search of the perfect job, but after 11 jobs in 28 years, Parcells would seem to have found that perfect one as coach of the best team in the land in the country's biggest market and near the Little League fields of his New Jersey youth.
And yet Parcells, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract that pays him an average of $825,000 annually, talks like a guy who's not sure if he wants to come back. "No comment," he said last week when asked about his future plans. That in itself was a comment.
Although Parcells has had occasional differences with Giants general manager George Young, this is not a clash of personalities. And it's not just about money, either, though Parcells would like a rich contract extension. It's about what Parcells wants to do with his life. Says his agent, Robert Fraley, "Any human being who is successful and who has gone to the top of his field has to evaluate what is his best career move. This is his time to think about that."
Parcells could walk away from the final year of his contract and get lucrative TV work until another coaching or G.M. job comes along; he could fulfill his contract and then seek another post; or he could stay with the Giants and sign a new contract, assuming they offer him an acceptable one. What's the going rate for a coach who has won two Super Bowls? At least $1.2 million a year.
Why do successful coaches look for greener football fields? "There's a certain adventure factor," says Bill Walsh, who left the 49ers for NBC after his third Super Bowl championship. "It was there with me, and it's there with Bill. When I decided to leave, I felt I had escaped into Shangri-la."
Transylvania now knows the count—in baseball
Baseball has become an international pastime. Membership in the International Baseball Association, the sport's Indianapolis-based world federation, has almost doubled in the past decade, to 68 countries. Organized ball has been reported in such culturally diverse places as Tonga, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Thailand, Transylvania....
Transylvania? Well, the home of Count Dracula is a region in Romania, and last week The Wall Street Journal reported on the birth of baseball in that country. Banned by the late dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, baseball could be a hit in Romania if organizers can get their hands on, among other things, a few bats.
"You can put a big zero on our scoreboard," said Cristian Costescu, secretary-general of the Romanian Baseball Federation. The '91 season will start as soon as nine gloves can be found. Some of the players wear motorcycle helmets to the plate. "What the Romanians lack in equipment and expertise, they make up for in desire," Allen Docal, an American who is a consultant to the league, told the Journal.
Romanians see the game differently than Americans do. Costescu's favorite play, for instance, is the sacrifice bunt. "One player sacrificing himself to help another," he said. "I think it is a very nice play."
Perhaps some sporting goods manufacturer, baseball team or even player could sacrifice a little to help the Romanians. That, too, would be a very nice play.
[Thumb Up]To Lenny Saunders, a teacher at Valley View Elementary School in Montville, N.J., for organizing Project A.C.E.S.—All Children Exercising Simultaneously. On May 8, 5 million kids around the world will participate in an exercise session.
[Thumb Up]To Zoe Koplowitz, who will be honored by the New York City Multiple Sclerosis Society at an April 24 dinner. Koplowitz, who suffers from MS, has been the last-place finisher in the New York City Marathon the past three years.
[Thumb Down]To Kansas high school authorities for making players from the Burrton High girls' basketball team return souvenir teddy bears, worth $1 each, taken from a banquet honoring their fourth-place finish in the state tournament. Otherwise, they would have been ineligible next season.
THEY SAID IT
Bob Brue, PGA Senior golfer: "I used to play golf with a guy who cheated so badly that he once had a hole in one and wrote down zero on the scorecard."
Junior Ortiz, Minnesota catcher, when asked if he would be upset if he were behind the plate when Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's alltime stolen base record: "No. He's stolen bases against a lot of good catchers too."
With the recent addition of James Madison (Harrisonburg, Va.) and William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.), the nine-member Yankee Conference now has four schools—Richmond and Delaware are the others—from below the Mason-Dixon line.
Orioles Host Royals
In the 1988 movie The Naked Gun, a hypnotized Reggie Jackson tries to assassinate Queen Elizabeth at a baseball game. Now comes word that on May 15 the Queen, along with Prince Philip, will attend her first ball game, in Baltimore. The Orioles will host the Oakland A's, for whom Reggie Jackson is a coach and broadcaster.
Making a List
The World Table Tennis Championships begin this Wednesday in Chiba, Japan. The U.S.'s top entrant is Jim Butler of Iowa City, Iowa, who here offers 10 pieces of advice for recreational players:
1. Don't call it Ping-Pong—That's a demeaning term for the fastest racket sport and, after soccer, the most popular sport in the world.
2. Play with someone better than you are—Good players spin the ball, and to excel, you'll have to learn to return different spins.
3. Choose a comfortable, legal paddle—Paddles can be any size, but the two surfaces must be made out of rubber.
4. Don't throw your paddle—From my experience, it breaks quite easily.
5. Choose a comfortable grip—Use whatever works for you, either the "pen-holder" grip (popular in Asia) or the "shake-hands" grip (favored in Europe and the U.S.).
6. Read a good book—I recommend the soon-to-be-published "Table Tennis—The Sport," by Scott Preiss.
7. Don't step on the ball—From my experience, it breaks quite easily.
8. Keep your feet moving—The ball can move at 105 mph, so stay on your toes.
9. Dress well—If you can't play well, you can at least look good. I favor the monochromatic Pete Sampras look.
10. Don't jump over the net—Something is bound to break quite easily.
Replay: 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Besides the cover piece on the Masters, the April 3, 1961, issue had stories on Cincinnati's victory over Ohio State for the NCAA basketball title and on Ted Williams's successor, "a boy named Carl Yastrzemski." The most compelling feature, however, was a photo spread of Marilyn Monroe watching ex-husband and Yankee coach Joe DiMaggio take batting practice in St. Petersburg, Fla. It was, she breathed, "exciting."